What is Growth Hacking & the 10 books every entrepreneur should read on the subject

sean-ellisSean Ellis coined the term “growth hacker” in 2010 and defined it as: “A person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scaleable growth.”

Many posts on the subject have been written but these two kind of started it all.

Find a growth hacker for your Startup”  & “Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing” 

Silicon Valley was not the most friendly place for marketers after the .com bubble burst.

The tech hub was full of engineers and the typical marketer just didn’t seem to fit the mold of what technology start ups required.

Marketing in the early 2000’s was more about spending money on big expensive, flashy outbound campaigns.

Technology startups simply didn’t have the money for this type of marketing, nor did they find it very effective for building an audience or for marketing their products.

Growth Hacking can be explained as a marketing technique that uses creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to build an audience, gain exposure and ultimately sell products and/or services.

Another word for it is Customer Acquisition.

Growth Hackers typically focus on innovative, measurable tactics that generally focus on using inbound marketing, search engine optimization, website analytics, content marketing, social media and A/B testing.

The focus is placed on low-cost, innovative alternatives to traditional outbound marketing like buying ads like newspaper, print, direct mail and television.

It’s the preferred method for startup marketing because it’s the most “lean” approach that focuses on “growth first, budgets second.”

From Lean Startup to Lean Marketing

If you are new to the “lean” movement, I recommend you read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries as well as The Lean Entrepreneur by Brant Cooper & Patrick Vlaskovits.

These books will help you understand how you how to start and grow a online business today.

Who uses Growth Hacking?

Growth Hacking was originally focused on software startups but today these same strategies and techniques can be used by all kinds of people in all kinds of companies.

We use growth hacking strategies here at Marketing Stream and so do organizations like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, AirBnB and Dropbox to name just a few.

Watch the companies that these Growth Hackers have worked at or still work at.

Want to know more about Growth Hacking?

If you want to learn more, GrowthHackers.com is a Community for Marketers to share and discuss useful growth resources. There are thousands of great posts, questions, discussions, AMAs, Growth Studies and more.


It’s a great community for cutting edge marketing ideas and strategies focused on growing your business or startup.

Follow me on Growthhackers here.

My Favorite Growth Hacking books

Also as promised, here are my favorite books on Growth hacking. I also added the Amazon descriptions so you can see what each is about.

Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising

growth hacker marketingA new generation of megabrands like Facebook, Dropbox, Airbnb, and Twitter haven’t spent a dime on traditional marketing.

No press releases, no TV commercials, no billboards. Instead, they rely on a new strategy—growth hacking—to reach many more people despite modest marketing budgets. Growth hackers have thrown out the old playbook and replaced it with tools that are testable, trackable, and scalable.

They believe that products and businesses should be modified repeatedly until they’re primed to generate explosive reactions.
Bestselling author Ryan Holiday, the acclaimed marketing guru for American Apparel and many bestselling authors and multiplatinum musicians, explains the new rules and provides valuable examples and case studies for aspiring growth hackers.

Whether you work for a tiny start-up or a Fortune 500 giant, if you’re responsible for building awareness and buzz for a product or service, this is your road map.

See this book on Amazon.

Startup Growth Engines: Case Studies of How Today’s Most Successful Startups Unlock Extraordinary Growth by Sean Ellis 

31yc4daowyl-_sl250_Today’s fastest growing startups all share one thing in common: a new approach to how they grow. Using new a way of marketing, called growth hacking, these startups have grown to millions of users and created billions of dollars in value, all without using the traditional marketing playbook.

So how have companies like Uber, Square, Snapchat, Evernote, Hubspot, Github and Yelp grown? See for yourself in this ebook packed with the most in-depth case studies on exactly what strategies these companies used to unlock massive growth.

Case studies included are: Uber, Snapchat, Square, Upworthy, Yelp, GitHub, Hubspot, Evernote, LinkedIn, and Belly.

Each case study shows you the specific strategies (we call them “growth engines”) that these companies used to grow, both in the early stages and later in their development.

From the growth hacks they used, to the unique growth playbooks they employed, you won’t fnd a more detailed look at how startups achieve growth than through these case studies.

Find this book on Amazon.

Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success by Sean Snow

51xyuohmfgl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Entrepreneur and journalist Shane Snow (Wired, Fast Company, The New Yorker, and cofounder of Contently) analyzes the lives of people and companies that do incredible things in implausibly short time.

How do some startups go from zero to billions in mere months? How did Alexander the Great, YouTube tycoon Michelle Phan, and Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon climb to the top in less time than it takes most of us to get a promotion? What do high-growth businesses, world-class heart surgeons, and underdog marketers do in common to beat the norm?

One way or another, they do it like computer hackers. They employ what psychologists call “lateral thinking” to rethink convention and break “rules” that aren’t rules.

In Smartcuts, Snow shatters common wisdom about success, revealing how conventions like “paying dues” prevent progress, why kids shouldn’t learn times tables, and how, paradoxically, it’s easier to build a huge business than a small one.

From SpaceX to The Cuban Revolution, from Ferrari to Skrillex, Smartcuts is a narrative adventure that busts old myths about success and shows how innovators and icons do the incredible by working smarter–and how perhaps the rest of us can, too.

Find this book on Amazon.

Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers Hardcover by Gabriel Weinberg

51e39t7itjl-_sl250_Most startups end in failure. Almost every failed startup has a product. What failed startups don’t have is traction — real customer growth. This book introduces startup founders and employees to the “Bullseye Framework,” a five-step process successful companies use to get traction. This framework helps founders find the marketing channel that will be key to unlocking the next stage of growth.

Traction is a guide to getting customers, written for startup founders, marketers, and those interested in how today’s startups grow and get traction.

This book shows you how the founders of several of the biggest companies and organizations in the world like Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Alexis Ohanian (Reddit), Paul English (Kayak.com) and Alex Pachikov (Evernote) have built and grown their startups.

We interviewed over forty successful founders and researched countless more growth stories to pull out the repeatable tactics and strategies they used to get traction. Too often, startups spend months (or years) building a product only to struggle with traction once they launch.

This struggle has startups trying random tactics – some ads, a blog post or two – in an unstructured way that leads to failure.

Get this book on Amazon.

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products Hardcover by Nir Eyal

41kgqdh9ml-_sl250_Why do some products capture widespread attention while others flop? What makes us engage with certain products out of sheer habit? Is there a pattern underlying how technologies hook us?

Nir Eyal answers these questions (and many more) by explaining the Hook Model—a four-step process embedded into the products of many successful companies to subtly encourage customer behavior. Through consecutive “hook cycles,” these products reach their ultimate goal of bringing users back again and again without depending on costly advertising or aggressive messaging.

Hooked is based on Eyal’s years of research, consulting, and practical experience. He wrote the book he wished had been available to him as a start-up founder—not abstract theory, but a how-to guide for building better products.

Hooked is written for product managers, designers, marketers, start-up founders, and anyone who seeks to understand how products influence our behavior.

Get this book on Amazon.

100 Days of Growth: Proven Ways to Grow your Business Fast by Sujan Patel and Rob Wormley

100-days-of-growth-162x300You could spend a lifetime trying to sift through and digest all the blog posts, podcasts, guides, and case studies that exist online about growth hacking—or you could start taking action today.

These 100 growth tactics were compiled based on strategies and techniques that Sujan Patel and Rob Wormley have used to help hundreds of clients move the needle and actually grow their businesses.

Actionable Tips

You’ll get access to an exclusive collection of 100 effective growth strategies and techniques that we’ve used to help businesses grow, such as:

  • The Surprise First, Ask Second Guest Post Technique
  • The Expiring Holiday Offer Hack
  • The Lean Homepage A/B Test

Find it here

Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster by Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz 

book-cover-fullMarc Andreesen once said that “markets that don’t exist don’t care how smart you are.” Whether you’re a startup founder trying to disrupt an industry, or an intrapreneur trying to provoke change from within, your biggest risk is building something nobody wants.

Lean Analytics can help. By measuring and analyzing as you grow, you can validate whether a problem is real, find the right customers, and decide what to build, how to monetize it, and how to spread the word.

Focusing on the One Metric That Matters to your business right now gives you the focus you need to move ahead–and the discipline to know when to change course.

Written by Alistair Croll (Coradiant, CloudOps, Startupfest) and Ben Yoskovitz (Year One Labs, GoInstant), the book lays out practical, proven steps to take your startup from initial idea to product/market fit and beyond.

Packed with over 30 case studies, and based on a year of interviews with over a hundred founders and investors, the book is an invaluable, practical guide for Lean Startup practitioners everywhere.

Find it on Amazon.

Viral Loop by Adam Penenberg

viral-loopMany of the most successful Web 2.0 companies, including MySpace, YouTube, eBay, and rising stars like Twitter and Flickr, are prime examples of what journalist Adam L. Penenberg calls a “viral loop”-to use the product means having to share it with others.

After all, what’s the sense of being on Facebook if none of your friends are?

The end result is a business that spreads rapidly, scales quickly, and has the promise to create staggering wealth. In this game-changing, essential book, Penenberg-who identified the phenomenon in a ground-breaking cover story for Fast Company-tells the fascinating, vivid story of the entrepreneurs who first harnessed the unprecedented potential of viral loops to create the successful online businesses (some with billion-dollar valuations) that we have all grown to rely on. While Viral Loop is fascinating for Penenberg’s savvy, incisive explanation of the concept, it’s even more valuable for its prescriptive nature.

Throughout the book, Penenberg illustrates how any kind of business can uncork viral loops to benefit its own bottom line, even retrofitting the concept for the offline world.

Penenberg explores viral loops and their impact on contemporary American business, while illustrating how all kinds of businesses-from the smallest start-ups to nonprofit organizations to the biggest multinational corporations-can use the paradigm-busting power of viral loops to enable their business through technology.

See this book on Amazon.

Contagious by Jonah Berger

contagiousWhat makes things popular? Why do people talk about certain products and ideas more than others? Why are some stories and rumors more infectious? And what makes online content go viral?

If you said advertising, think again. People don’t listen to advertisements, they listen to their peers. But why do people talk about certain products and ideas more than others? Why are some stories and rumors more infectious? And what makes online content go viral?

Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger has spent the last decade answering these questions. He’s studied why New York Times articles make the paper’s own Most E-mailed List, why products get word of mouth, and how social influence shapes everything from the cars we buy to the clothes we wear to the names we give our children. In this book, Berger reveals the secret science behind word-of-mouth and social transmission. Discover how six basic principles drive all sorts of things to become contagious, from consumer products and policy initiatives to workplace rumors and YouTube videos.

Contagious combines groundbreaking research with powerful stories. Learn how a luxury steakhouse found popularity through the lowly cheese-steak, why anti-drug commercials might have actually increased drug use, and why more than 200 million consumers shared a video about one of the seemingly most boring products there is: a blender. If you’ve wondered why certain stories get shared, e-mails get forwarded, or videos go viral, Contagious explains why, and shows how to leverage these concepts to craft contagious content. This book provides a set of specific, actionable techniques for helping information spread—for designing messages, advertisements, and information that people will share. Whether you’re a manager at a big company, a small business owner trying to boost awareness, a politician running for office, or a health official trying to get the word out, Contagious will show you how to make your product or idea catch on.

See this book on Amazon.

SEO Like I’m 5: Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization by Matthew Capala

2nd-edition-seo-like-5-cover_kindle-200x300I know, I know, I should not be self-promotional pitching my own book! But I really feel like it belongs here, especially if you are just starting out as an entrepreneur. 2nd Edition now available!

Make no mistake; this is no ‘SEO for dummies.’ Rather, SEO Like I’m 5 is the ultimate beginner’s training system for forward-thinking businesses and entrepreneurs that will get you found on Google, social media, and blogs. You will also learn how to attract followers and leads like a magnet by building a vibrant community around your content, which both users and search engines will love, and leveraging untapped, high-growth platforms and social networks. Lastly, you will learn how to make money online and monetize your content like a pro.

When it comes to SEO, you can spend all your time studying the roots, or you can just learn to pick the fruit. With the 2nd, 2015-updated edition of “SEO Like I’m 5,” our approach lets you focus on picking up the fruit, not studying the tree.

In addition to taking you through the strategic process of building and optimizing your online presence, “SEO Like I’m 5” features dozens of free tools, ‘under-the-hood’ hacks, case studies, real-world examples, and actionable tips.


I hope this answers your questions about what growth hacking is and I hope you decided to grab some of these books and dig in and learn how you can put growth hacking to use for your online business.

Subscribe & Grow

Get updates on posts like this one. No spam ever.

Leave a Comment